Tuesday, 15 August 2017

What Happens When the Professionals Involved in a MHA Assessment Disagree?

A member of the Masked AMHP Facebook Mental Health Forum recently posted about a situation in which a hospital psychiatrist had objected to an assessing AMHP concluding that it was not appropriate to detain the patient under the MHA, and demanding that another AMHP conducted another assessment. The issue was whether or not a psychiatrist had a right to do this.

This raises some interesting issues about what should happen when mental health professionals involved in a MHA assessment cannot reach agreement about what should happen with the patient.

The MHA has little to say about procedures relating to differences of opinion, and there is little, if any, case law on the subject.

However, it must be borne in mind that the AMHP is the professional with responsibility to making an application for detention under Sec.2, 3 & 4 MHA.

An AMHP does not have to act on the medical recommendations provided. By their nature, they are “recommendations”. It is at the AMHP’s discretion whether or not to make an application based on those recommendations.

Sec.13 (2) MHA States:

Before making an application for the admission of a patient to hospital an approved mental health professional… [must] satisfy himself that detention in a hospital is in all the circumstances of the case the most appropriate way of providing the care and medical treatment of which the patient stands in need.

The AMHP’s duty is to consider “all the circumstances”. The Code of Practice goes on to say:

AMHPs may make an application for detention only if they have interviewed the patient in a suitable manner,  are satisfied that the statutory criteria for detention are met, and are satisfied that, in all the circumstances of the case, detention in hospital is the most appropriate way of providing the care and medical treatment the patient needs.(para14.49)

The AMHP must give due regard to the first overarching principle when making decisions regarding the detention of people under the MHA, which is to always go for the least restrictive option. The Code of Practice makes it clear that “where it is possible to treat a patient safely and lawfully without detaining them under the Act, the patient should not be detained.” (para1.2)

Furthermore, the Code of Practice says: “There is no obligation on an AMHP… to make an application for admission just because the statutory criteria are met.” (para14.103)

It must be remembered that the AMHP exists as a check on unimpeded decision making by medics. The AMHP’s role is to employ a social perspective when making assessments of people with mental disorder.

To give an example, I recently assessed a person whose GP wanted detained under the MHA on the grounds that they had stopped taking their antipsychotic medication several months previously. The GP had not actually seen the patient, as they had missed an appointment.

When I assessed the person at their own home (they readily let us in), it became clear that there was some evidence of paranoid delusions. However,  these were not in any way impinging on their ability to look after themselves and to live a full and meaningful life. Neither was their reluctance to take medication having any adverse effect on anyone else.

I declined to use the MHA, on the basis that people have the right to be quietly mad, as long as it is not affecting themselves or others, and it was therefore disproportionate.

Although the Code does give some advice on resolving disagreements between professionals (para14.109 & 14.110), it does not offer advice on what to do if any of the professionals are unwilling to accede to a decision.

For guidance on this problem, it is necessary to turn to Richard Jones in the Mental Health Act Manual (19th Edition). He observes:

If the AMHP decides not to make an application, it would be improper for that decision to be reviewed by another AMHP in the absence of any change in circumstances, fresh evidence or concern that the AMHP had acted unprofessionally. (p117)

However, he does offer suggestions as to how such disputes may be resolved by stating:

If the decision not to make the application was made by an AMHP with little knowledge of the patient, there should be no objection to that decision being reviewed by an AMHP who has an extensive knowledge of the patient’s history and current situation. A procedure which allowed for the automatic review of a decision of an AMHP not to make an application would undermine the independent nature of the AMHP’s role.

Interestingly, he does not consider that an AMHP has similar restrictions. In a situation where an AMHP is not satisfied with a refusal by a doctor to provide a medical recommendation, he has this to say:

If a doctor who has been approached with a view to making a medical recommendation decides not to do so on the ground that the statutory criteria are not satisfied, there is nothing to prevent an AMHP from taking steps to see whether another doctor might be willing to provide the recommendation. (p114)

When it comes to consideration of Community Treatment Orders, it seems that the AMHP still holds the upper hand.

The Reference Guide states that before a CTO can be made an AMHP “must agree with the responsible clinician’s opinion that all the criteria are met and agree that it is appropriate for the patient to become a CTO patient.”(para26.14)

The Code then states:

If the AMHP does not agree with the responsible clinician that the patient should go onto a CTO, or if they do not agree with the conditions attached to the CTO, then the CTO cannot be made. A record of the AMHP’s decision and the full reasons for it should be kept in the patient’s notes. The responsible clinician should not approach another AMHP for an alternative view. (para29.25)

So it appears that a doctor’s hands are largely tied when it comes to disagreeing with an AMHP’s decision not to detain; but an AMHP may still persist in searching for a doctor prepared to make a medical recommendation if the AMHP believes that the patient should be detained under the MHA.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

How do you Establish which Local Authority is Responsible for Making an Assessment under the MHA?

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This post is prompted by a situation I encountered recently while working as the duty worker for our local AMHP Service. It related to a dispute with an AMHP from another local authority concerning who was responsible for responding to a request to make an assessment under Sec.3 MHA for a patient detained under Sec.2 MHA.

Briefly, this was the scenario.

The patient (P) normally lived in our area (Local Authority A). P was admitted informally to a private specialist hospital located in Local Authority B, without any involvement with our local AMHP service. P was subsequently placed on a Sec.5(2) by the hospital, and an AMHP in Local Authority B assessed and detained under Sec.2 MHA for assessment.

P was then transferred to another private specialist hospital in Local Authority C. That hospital subsequently requested an assessment for detention under Sec.3 for treatment.

The question was: which local authority was responsible for undertaking this assessment?

Was it:
A)  Local Authority A
B)  Local Authority B
C)  Local Authority C

To answer this question we need to look at what the Mental Health Act itself says, and also the Reference Guide and the Code of Practice.

At times the wording in the MHA can be a little confusing, and Sec.13, which is concerned with the duty of AMHPs to make applications for admission or guardianship.

Sec.13 says:

(1) If a local social services authority have reason to think that an application for admission to hospital … may need to be made in respect of a patient within their area, they shall make arrangements for an approved mental health professional to consider the patient’s case on their behalf.
(1A) If that professional is—
(a) satisfied that such an application ought to be made in respect of the patient; and
(b) of the opinion, having regard to any wishes expressed by relatives of the patient or any other relevant circumstances, that it is necessary or proper for the application to be made by him, he shall make the application.

Then it gets even more complicated in Sec.13(1B), which invokes Sec.13(1C). Here it is in all its convoluted beauty:

 (1B) Subsection (1C) below applies where—
(a) a local social services authority makes arrangements under subsection (1) above in respect of a patient;
(b) an application for admission for assessment is made under subsection (1A) above in respect of the patient;
(c) while the patient is liable to be detained in pursuance of that application, the authority have reason to think that an application for admission for treatment may need to be made in respect of the patient; and
(d) the patient is not within the area of the authority.
(1C) Where this subsection applies, subsection (1) above shall be construed as requiring the authority to make arrangements under that subsection in place of the authority mentioned there.

Bear in mind in reading this that Sec.13(1A), (1B) & (1C) were inserted into the MHA by the 2007 Act specifically  in order to clarify the situation regarding local authority responsibility for assessments under Sec.3 MHA.

Thankfully, the Reference Guide offers an easy to understand translation. Para8.16 states:

Local authorities must arrange for an AMHP to consider a patient’s case on their behalf, if they have reason to believe that an application for admission to hospital may need to be made in respect of a patient who happens, at the time, to be within their area. It does not matter whether the patient lives in the area.[my highlighting]

Crucially, Para8.18 continues:

In certain cases, local authorities must also arrange for an AMHP to consider the case of a patient who is in a hospital outside their area. This applies where the patient concerned is already detained for assessment on the basis of an application made by an AMHP acting on behalf of the local authority in question. If that local authority has reason to think that an application for admission for treatment may now be needed for the patient, it is that local authority, rather than the one for the area in which the hospital is, or where the patient lives, which is under a duty to arrange for an AMHP to consider making the further application. [my highlighting]

The code of Practice spells this out even further. Para14.37 says:

If a patient is already detained under section 2 as the result of an application made by an AMHP, the local authority on whose behalf that AMHP was acting is responsible for arranging for an AMHP to consider the patient’s case again if the local authority has reason to believe that an application under section 3 may be necessary. This applies even if the patient has been detained outside that local authority’s area.

To go back to the original scenario, the correct answer is Local Authority B, the local authority that initially made the Sec.2 application, even though the patient, who did not normally live in their area, is now in a hospital in another area.

So when I was contacted by the AMHP I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I reminded him of what Sec.13 said. He countered by suggesting that it was not appropriate for his local authority to undertake the assessment, but it was appropriate for ours to do it.

He was clearly relying on the last sentence of para14.37, which reads:

These duties do not prevent any other local authority from arranging for an AMHP to consider a patient’s case if that is more appropriate.

However, that does not place any obligation on our AMHP service to consider the case, which I pointed out.

He replied that it would involve a 2 hour journey to get to the hospital 80 miles away. My response was to point out that one of our AMHPs would have to travel 150 miles, which would take at least 3 hours, for a patient about whom we had less knowledge than Local Authority B. He then concluded that they would probably decide not to accept responsibility for the assessment.

As I thought that it was an interesting response for a local authority to refuse to undertake a task that was their legal duty, I decided to write this post.

But what about Local Authority C? P was definitely in their area, and not far for them to travel? Surely they would do the assessment on behalf of Local Authority B?

Unfortunately not. I had already had dealings with C’s AMHP service in the past, following a request for a Sec.3 assessment for a patient that we had detained under Sec.2. Their policy was to refuse any requests where they did not have a duty to respond. In that situation, an AMHP did have to travel 150 miles, and take an entire day, to do the assessment.

It’s all to do with duty versus power. Where AMHP’s have a duty to act, they have to act. Where they have the power to act, such as a situation where a patient in Local Authority X is taken by police under Sec.136 to a Sec.136 suite in Local Authority Y’s area, they could choose to do the assessment or not, while the AMHP in Local Authority Y would have to do it.

Our local authority, being a large, predominantly rural county, has several private hospitals which accept patients from all over the country. It is not uncommon for patients to be admitted under Sec.2 to these hospitals, and then be required to be assessed under Sec.3. Our AMHP service policy is generally to do these assessments, as long as the responsible local authority asks us nicely.


But we don’t have to.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Who’s Responsible for Finding a Bed?

"Good news -- we've opened a new ward!"
An AMHP has a number of powers: one of the most important is the power to make an application for detention to hospital under Sec.2, 3 & 4 of the Mental Health Act.

The trouble is, this power is meaningless if there isn’t a hospital identified that can receive the patient.

But let’s be clear from the start: although AMHPs have responsibility for the overall management of the assessment and subsequent admission, AMHPs are not responsible for finding a suitable, or indeed, any hospital bed.

This is stated unequivocally in the Code of Practice (para 14.77)

If the doctors reach the opinion that the patient needs to be admitted to hospital, it is their responsibility to take the necessary steps to secure a suitable hospital bed; it is not the responsibility of the AMHP.

While it goes on to say that “in some cases, it could be agreed locally between the local authority and the relevant NHS bodies and communicated to the AMHP that this will be done by any AMHP involved in the assessment,” this is only subject to local agreement.

Usually, the doctor’s duty to find a bed is delegated either to the local Crisis Team (CRHTT) or a bed management team, both of which will be employed by the local Mental Health Trust.

For example, our local AMHP Service arrangements are for the AMHP to notify the relevant  bed management team of the need for a bed. There are separate bed management teams for adults and older people.

While in the past it was a matter of course that a bed was available prior to going out to make an assessment, nowadays, it is increasingly common for AMHP’s to be making assessments under the MHA for people in the community where no bed has been identified at the time of the assessment.

This is, of course, because of the huge number of psychiatric beds that have been closed in the last 7 years. This might not have mattered had there been a corresponding increase in community mental health services designed to reduce the need for hospital admission, but as there has at the same time been an actual reduction in community based front line staff, this has resulted in an even greater need for patients to be assessed in crisis and requiring a hospital bed as a matter of urgency.

While the AMHP is often in the firing line, and frequently receiving flak for the failure to find a bed in an emergency, behind the scenes the underlying cause for this appalling situation is the failure of the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to comprehend and fulfill their legal requirements.

CCGs were created by the notorious Health & Social Care Act 2012. They replaced Primary Care Trusts, and are allegedly GP led.

There are three problems with CCGs:

·        Firstly, GPs are not necessarily the best people to be responsible for running an entire local NHS service. Otherwise, they would have gone into management, rather than being GPs. This may seem obvious to most people; but not, unfortunately to the Coalition Government that introduced the changes.

Secondly, CCGs tend not to cover the same geographical area as the PCT’s. For example, our large geographical county used to be covered by one PCT. There are now 5 separate CCGs covering the same area, all with different local arrangements and priorities.

Thirdly, unlike the PCTs they replaced, CCGs seem to be blissfully unaware of their legal duties under the MHA.

In particular, CCGs generally appear to be ignorant of Sec.140 MHA. As the Code of Practice points out:

CCGs are responsible for commissioning mental health services to meet the needs of their areas. Under section 140 of the Act, CCGs have a duty to notify local authorities in their areas of arrangements which are in force for the reception of patients in cases of special urgency or the provision of appropriate accommodation or facilities specifically designed for patients under the age of 18. The arrangements should include details of which providers in their area can receive patients in cases of special urgency and provide accommodation or facilities designed to be specifically suitable for patients under the age of 18.(para14.78)

Para14.79 of the CoP additionally, and unambiguously, states:

[NHS England] is responsible for the commissioning of secure mental health services and other specialist services. NHS commissioners should work with providers to ensure that procedures are in place through which beds can be identified whenever required.

What does this mean? Surely it means that in emergencies, for example, when an AMHP requires a hospital bed for a patient who has been assessed to be at intolerable risk if not detained under the MHA, then there will be a bed available for the patient within the area covered by the CCG.

It surely also means that when a bed is required in these circumstances for someone under the age of 18, then a bed should be available.

And NHS commissioners should be able to identify secure mental health beds (and other specialist beds, such as beds for children) “whenever required”.

But as every AMHP knows, this is not the reality.

There are frequently long delays in finding and providing beds for patients assessed under the MHA, and these beds are often hundreds of miles away. Locally, we have had cases of elderly people waiting so long for a bed to be found that the medical recommendations, which are valid for 14 days, have expired before a bed is found, meaning that a fresh assessment has to take place.

There is also a national shortage of suitable beds for under 18’s. Our local MH Trust has 10 beds for young people, but there are currently another 30 under 18’s placed in beds outside the area.

So what can an AMHP do in such circumstances?

In extremis, our local AMHPs have come up with some interesting solutions to the problem of assessing a patient as requiring admission under the MHA, but having no bed to admit the patient to. This often involves use of the Sec.136 suite.

One imaginative example was the case of a 15 year old child, living at home, whose behaviour was totally out of his parents’ control. The police were in attendance because of his violence and damage to property. The AMHP and two doctors assessed, and the doctors provided a medical recommendation for a Sec.2. There was no bed, but the AMHP felt that it was too dangerous for the child to be left at home while a bed was sourced.

The AMHP’s solution was to arrange for the patient to be taken to the local Sec.136 suite. While I was unsure of the precise legal authority for this transfer, the AMHP considered that it was a case of urgent necessity for the child to be in a safe place, and it was certainly in the child’s, and the parents’, best interests.

This remarkably concentrated the bed managers’ minds to the extent that a bed was found within a couple of hours, and the patient was able to be detained.

Another AMHP found themselves in a similar situation with another child. The child could not be left at home because of the risk factors, but no bed was identified. On this occasion, the bed management team’s solution to having no suitable children’s psychiatric bed was to arrange for the child to be admitted, under section, to a children’s medical ward in the local general hospital. Once a more appropriate bed was identified, the patient was then transferred.

A recent blog post by Mental Health Cop posits the idea that there may be another way of facilitating admission. His suggestion is based on the requirement in Sec.13(1A) if an AMHP is satisfied that an application under the MHA ought to be made, and that it is necessary and proper for the AMHP to make it, then “he shall make the application”. This lays a legal duty on the AMHP to make an application in these circumstances.

He then quotes at length from the biennial reports of the Mental Health Act Commission, the predecessor of the CQC, which used to have responsibility for overseeing the practice of the MHA. It is suggested that “in an emergency the [AMHP] should complete the applications, making it out to a hospital specified by the relevant health authority in the notice required to be given under Section 140 of the Act, and convey the patient to that hospital.”

The MHAC is suggesting not just that this is an option available to the AMHP, but that there is a legal imperative on the AMHP to take such action.

While this may have a certain attraction to the AMHP, dealing with a crisis situation, sitting in the home of a patient who really cannot in all conscience be left there, in practice there are many difficulties in following this course.

Not least of these is following guidance that relates to a different MHA (although the MHA is still known as the 1983 Act, it was heavily amended by the 2007 Act, which removed Approved Social Workers, at whom the MHAC guidance was directed, and replacing them with AMHPs.).

I would certainly be reluctant to turn up at a hospital quoting this guidance and invoking Sec.140, expecting the hospital managers to instantly find a bed.

I am afraid that I don’t think that this is a practical option for AMHPs to take. Ultimately, I still think the best option in such circumstances is, whether an application is made or not, to take the patient to the local Sec.136 suite.


In fact, just yesterday, one of our AMHPs , using a Sec.135(1) warrant, took an elderly patient to the Sec.136 suite and informed the bed managers that the patient would remain there until a bed was found. A bed magically appeared within an hour.